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A Guide to VA Nursing Homes: An Essential Long-Term Care Benefit for Veterans

11 minute readLast updated June 22, 2023
Written by Kara Lewis
Reviewed by Letha McDowell, CELA, CAPCertified Elder Law Attorney Letha Sgritta McDowell is a past president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
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If you or your senior loved one is a veteran, their past service can often make senior living more affordable. VA nursing homes, also called VA community living centers, stand out as a popular and accessible senior living option for older veterans. Currently, more than 100 VA community living centers serve veterans all across the country. These VA nursing homes typically house veterans on or near the campus of a VA medical center. Learn more about the services they offer, the associated costs for veterans and their families, and how to determine if a nursing home for veterans is the right fit for your loved one’s care needs.

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Does the VA provide coverage for nursing home care?

Yes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a variety of programs and benefits that help provide long-term care to veterans and eligible military-connected individuals. Specific services VA nursing homes offer may vary by state. However, at most nursing homes, veterans and their caregivers can expect to receive the following care from licensed professionals: [01]

  • Round-the-clock care and supervision
  • Help with activities of daily living (ADLs) like eating and bathing
  • Wound dressing and treatment
  • Medication management
  • Assistance with insulin and IVs
  • Preventative and restorative care, such as routine doctor’s appointments and physical therapy

Care plans at many community living centers include a wider range of assistance: [01]

In addition to addressing physical and mental health, VA nursing homes also help prevent social isolation in seniors. Like in most other senior living settings, residents in VA community living centers can expect a wide range of group activities — games, movie nights, performances by visiting choirs, and social hours — as well as nutritious, communal meals. A VA nursing home can also minimize both senior and caregiver stress by providing consistent housekeeping, laundry, and maintenance.

Find and contact a VA community living center in your area to make sure staff can meet your loved one’s specific health needs.

How to qualify for VA nursing home care

To be eligible for VA nursing home care, a veteran must be enrolled in VA health care benefits. The first steps are to make sure your family member meets the requirements and to submit an application.

Determine eligibility for VA health care

To access VA health care benefits, veterans need to have served in active duty and received an honorable discharge. While these standards represent minimum requirements, your senior loved one can enhance their eligibility and gain a higher priority level — meaning they are more likely to receive care — if at least one of the following is also true: [02]

  • They receive VA payments for a disability connected to their service.
  • They were discharged from the military due to a service-connected disability, injury, or health condition.
  • They earn retirement pay from the VA.
  • They are a former prisoner of war (POW).
  • They were awarded with a Purple Heart or Medal of Honor.
  • They receive or qualify for Medicaid benefits.

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A veteran also has increased eligibility if they served in specific locations during the following wartime periods: [02]

  • Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953, and Dec. 31, 1987
  • Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975
  • Southwest Asia between Aug. 2, 1990, and Nov. 11, 1998

If these eligibility factors aren’t applicable for a veteran, it’s still possible to qualify for VA health care based on annual income. If you or your loved one earned less than the 2023 income limits listed on the VA’s website, they may qualify based on need. Those figures have been set as “income thresholds,” meaning that if a veteran or their spouse brings in more money in a given year, they won’t qualify based on financial need.[03]

Additional qualifications for veteran nursing homes

After determining whether an applicant is eligible for VA health care, the VA must find all three of the following true to admit a patient to a community living center: [01]

  • The veteran is signed up for VA health care.
  • The veteran requires VA nursing home services.
  • A nearby community living center has adequate space for the veteran.

For the VA to determine that a patient requires VA nursing home services, health care professionals must identify a “medical need,” which the VA defines as care or a service that’s necessary to preserve, restore, or promote a veteran’s health.[04]

Do veterans get free nursing home care?

It depends. Veterans may or may not have a copay based on their priority group. A veteran’s priority group takes into account details like their level of disability, income, and service history.

While no veteran will pay for their first 21 days in a community living center, some veterans may pay up to $97 a day for continued long-term care.[05] Contributions from Medicaid or a senior’s private insurance may reduce these health care costs.

A veteran’s copay is likely to change if their priority level or income shifts significantly.

Do spouses of veterans receive nursing home benefits?

Typically, spouses of veterans and surviving spouses don’t reside in VA community living centers. However, they may be able to use other VA funding — such as a VA Survivors Pension or a VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation — to pay for the costs associated with nursing home care. Some senior living communities may offer military discounts, which usually extend to spouses of veterans and surviving spouses.

Is a nursing home for veterans the right fit for my loved one?

Though “nursing home” is often used as a general term for senior living, there are actually many care types available. After exploring various senior care options, older adults and caregivers may decide their needs would be better met by a different care model, like assisted living, memory care, independent living, or a residential care home.

In fact, A Place for Mom surveyed 100 families who contacted us seeking nursing homes for their relatives. After consulting with our Senior Living Advisors, 89 of those families identified that a nursing home wasn’t the right choice for their aging family member.

Before submitting an application for VA nursing home care, consider whether the level of care offered by a nursing home best fits your loved one’s unique needs. Generally, nursing home residents have serious and chronic mental or physical illnesses which demand a higher level of care.

Try asking yourself the following questions to determine if your family member would benefit from a nursing home:

  • Are they recovering from an injury, stroke, or surgery?
  • Do they need access to 24-hour skilled medical care?
  • Do they have a complex, progressive, or cognitive health condition?
  • Do they fall frequently?
  • Are they bedbound or unable to get into and out of a wheelchair independently?
  • Can they no longer feed themselves or maintain their dental health?

If your answer to any of these questions is yes, the intensive level of care provided by a nursing home may be the right fit. A physician can confirm this designation and prescribe nursing home care.

Does the VA pay for other types of senior living?

If your family member doesn’t require nursing home care but does need help with everyday activities or memory loss, the VA may pay for assisted living, memory care, or home care services through a program called Aid and Attendance. Part of the VA Pension program, the Aid and Attendance benefit allows single veterans to receive up to $2,229 per month to help them pay for care, while married veterans can see up to $2,642 in monthly payments.[06]

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Start the VA health care application process

If you or your family member already gets VA health care benefits, complete the VA form for extended care services. You’ll need to list information like current income, deductible expenses, and the value of any assets.

If your loved one doesn’t already receive VA health care benefits, this marks a necessary first step to securing a spot in a VA nursing home. Apply for VA health care online or download and mail in the printed enrollment form.

You’ll need the following important pieces of information and documents when you apply:

  • Social Security numbers for the veteran, their spouse, and any dependents
  • Military discharge papers
  • Insurance coverage information, including insurance cards from Medicare or a private company
  • The previous calendar year’s gross household income for the veteran, their spouse, and any dependents
  • The previous calendar year’s deductible expenses

How to get into a veterans nursing home

The process of applying for a VA nursing home can be complicated, but a trustworthy expert can help you navigate it. Consider finding an elder care attorney in your area, visiting your local VA facility, or calling the VA at 800-698-2411.

SHARE THE ARTICLE

  1. [1] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023, February 15). Community living centers.

  2. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, November 14).Eligibility for VA health care.

  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023, March 20). Annual income limits.

  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015, June 22). Health benefits glossary.

  5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2023, April 3). 2023 VA health care copy rates.

  6. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2022, November 29). 2023 VA pension rates for veterans.

Meet the Author
Kara Lewis

Kara Lewis is a former copywriter at A Place for Mom, where she wrote dozens of articles related to senior living, with a special focus on veterans, mental health, and how to pay for care. Before covering senior living, she worked in journalism, media, and editing at publications. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Edited by

Leah Hallstrom

Reviewed by

Letha McDowell, CELA, CAP

The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom and the reader. Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter, and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site. Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not endorse the contents of the third-party sites.

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